Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: An Inside Look at Universal Orlando's Theme Parks

November 17, 2021

Universal Orlando Resort is a massive theme park bursting with thrills and packed with entertainment at every turn.

You can’t go wrong when both Universal Orlando theme parks – Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure – are unforgettable, immersive experiences offering only the best in riding and dining.

If your time and budget allows for it, we suggest hitting both parks. Each one is filled with their own, irreplaceable experiences you won’t want to miss.

However, if you have to choose one, we’re here to help you make the most of your conundrum. Read on for a breakdown of the differences, highlights, and can’t-miss features at each park. It won’t be an easy decision, but either way, we promise you’ll have a blast!

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Before We Begin

Before we dig into the details, you’ll need a basic understanding of what each park has to offer.

If you’re a movie buff or pop culture fanatic, the character-driven attractions at Universal Studios Florida are going to be right in your wheelhouse. Many of the attractions here are themed around entertainment -- think The Simpsons, Transformers, and Despicable Me -- and you’ll find lots of 3D rides.

Superheroes, action movies and, well, adventure are the signatures of Universal’s Islands of Adventure. You’ll find daring thrills and a classic theme park vibe here.

Related Post: Insider’s Guide to Universal Orlando Resort™

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ is a magical attraction that draws in many visitors all on its own. If you’re a Potterhead, which theme park is best for you? You won’t need the Sorting Hat for this because the answer is either one!

This special, themed area of Universal Orlando Resort spans both parks. The first section, Hogsmeade™, can be found in Islands of Adventure. Diagon Alley™, the second section, is located in Universal Studios. The Hogwarts Express™ travels between both sections of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter so you can explore both with ease!

In order to visit all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, you’ll need to purchase a 2-Park Ticket. This is, by far, the best way to not only see all of the Harry Potter™ attractions, but to experience Universal Orlando Resort in its entirety as well.

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Now that you have a good idea of what you’re getting into when you visit either park, it’s time for a showdown! Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure? Let’s go!

Universal Studios Globe located at the entrance in Orlando, Florida, USA

photo credit: Aditya Vyas via Unsplash

Universal Studios Florida

Best Overall: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™

This 4D ride brings one of the classic movie scenes to life. As the featured attraction of the Diagon Alley™ section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, you won’t want to miss it. Go on a mad coaster dash that simulates Gringotts Wizarding Bank with Harry Potter™ and friends. Watch out for goblins, Bellatrix, and Voldemort!

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After you get your adrenaline rush on the ride, you’ll be ready to explore the rest of Diagon Alley, preferably with a Butterbeer™ in hand. Grab an English bite at The Leaky Cauldron™ before heading to Ollivanders™: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC, where you’ll be picked out by your wand. Yes, we said that right -- only true fans will know what we mean.

Best Thrill: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

Speedsters will be eager to jump on this outdoor roller coaster that drops, twists, and turns at 65 miles per hour! The best part is it’s all set to the soundtrack of your song of choice. Rock out during this mind-spinning rush that is not for the faint of heart. 

Close up photo of Optimus Prime at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, USA

photo credit: Universal Orlando Resort via Facebook

Best High-Stakes Ride: Transformers: The Ride – 3D

If you’re searching for an adventure so daring that the fate of the world is at stake, look no further than Transformers: The Ride – 3D. On this motion simulator attraction, fight alongside Optimus Prime and Bumblebee as they battle to keep our planet safe from the Decepticons.

Best Throwback: E.T. Adventure Ride

For an out-of-this-world experience, it’s hard to beat the classic E.T. Adventure Ride. Soar through the night sky on a bike to get E.T. back home so he can save the Green Planet. It’s a nostalgic good time that will bring back all the emotions you experienced when first watching the movie that was released in the 1980s.

Best Place to Cowabunga: The Simpsons Ride

Prepare to walk into a real-life cartoon world when you visit Springfield in the Universal Studios section dedicated to The Simpsons. The vibrant colors and over-the-top designs are a true showcase of this animated classic. Grab some noms at Krusty Burger and whet your whistle at Moe’s. Then, hop on the virtual 4D ride for an action-packed adventure with the Simpsons. This captivating virtual reality experience is engaging from start to finish.

Best High-Speed Chase: Fast & Furious: Supercharged

Join Dom, Letty, Hobbs, Roman, and the rest of the crew for a high-speed ride through the high-octane world of the Fast & Furious blockbuster films. The ride starts in a recreation of the crew’s headquarters, complete with real movie props and vehicles. Then, you’ll board a party bus that comes under fire by none other than Owen Shaw. Hold on to the edge of your seat as you encounter car jumps, rockets, and even helicopters in an effort to escape!

Best Commute: Ride Hogwarts Express

Catch a ride from either section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, but we recommend boarding from the Diagon Alley™ side as you depart from King's Cross Station if you have the choice. Why? You'll get to stop by the top-secret Platform 9 3/4 just like Harry Potter™ for a spellbinding experience. 

Family riding Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Orlando - Orlando, FL USABest Fright: Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride

Scaredy-cats, steer clear of this ride! For those who are brave and looking for all the pulse-quickening fun, this attraction offers plenty as you try to dodge the malevolent Imhotep. Run from scarab beetles, fire, and mummies as you make a narrow escape. It’s like a movie brought to life but without the simulator effect so many other Universal Studios attractions rely on.

Best Kid-Friendly Attraction: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Ready for all the maniacal Minion madness? If any little ones are tagging along, join Gru and the crew for his latest wacky scheme. On the ride, you’ll undergo Minion training before the real adventure takes off when things go wrong. The Minions create plenty of mischief and host a dance party at the end, too. The thrills are tame but kids will be begging to ride it over and over. 

Best Place to Eat: Fast Food Boulevard or The Leaky Cauldron™

For us, it’s a tie! Fast Food Boulevard is an excellent option for food court-style dining if you’re in the mood for items like burgers, chicken fingers, and fried seafood. It has a Simpsons theme, so Krusty Burger, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, and The Frying Dutchman are the featured restaurants. Outside, the Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck serves -- you guessed it -- tacos. 

Related Post: Universal Studios Dining Guide

The Leaky Cauldron™ is a good option if you’re looking for more of a slower, sit-down meal. You’re guaranteed an experience that is anything but run-of-the-mill, as the British fare certainly isn’t your typical theme park food. Choose from menu items like bangers and mash or cottage pie.

external view of Harry Potter's Castle at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, USA

photo credit: Universal Orlando Resort via Facebook

Islands of Adventure

Best Overall: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™ will transport you out of reality. Walking the shop-lined cobblestone streets with the Hogwarts™ Castle replica in the background is a world-traveling experience like no other. Plus, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ is a state-of-the-art indoor motion ride filled with an abundance of high-flying fun.

Even if you’re not a huge Harry Potter™ fan, we don’t know many people who could resist picking up their pace a little as they catch the first sight of the castle on their way to experience this bustling fantasy world brought to life in screaming color.

Wide shot of the Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, USA

photo credit: Universal Orlando Resort via Facebook

Best Thrill: The Incredible Hulk Coaster®

Get ready to “hulk out” on this soaring, loop-filled Islands of Adventure attraction. You’ll be seeing green as the steel coaster springs out of the gate, reaching speeds up to 67 miles per hour. The creators of the coaster had in mind to simulate the experience of being launched out of a cannon -- and it’s safe to say they pulled it off.

Best Superhero Experience: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®

Superlatives don’t do The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® attraction justice. Your spidey-sense will be tingling when you soar through the streets with Spider-Man on this ride that features the first-ever combination of moving, motion-based ride vehicles, 3-D film, and live-action.

Best Water Ride: Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®

If you’re looking to escape the Florida heat, climb aboard Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®, a themed log-flume ride set in the Canadian mountains. Experience a 75-foot drop, then plummet below water level for a real rush! Be warned—this ride will leave you soaked. 

Best Adventure: Jurassic Park River Adventure

Find more wild water thrills at Jurassic Park River Adventure. You’re already wet from the last ride, so why not? On this one, float past colossal dinosaurs before being taken off-course into a restricted Raptor Containment Area. Encounter a close call as the T-Rex nearly captures you in his jaws before plunging 85 feet into total darkness to just barely make it out alive.

Close up photo to the entrance of the Non Skull Island ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, USA

photo credit: Universal Orlando Resort via Facebook

Best Fright: Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Muster up your bravery before getting in line for this ride. A treacherous journey through the jungle awaits you. You’ll have to dodge menacing creatures, before finally coming face-to-face with a giant, looming ape: King Kong. To find out whose side he’s on, you’ll just have to ride it.

Best Kid-Friendly Attraction: Caro-Seuss-el™

Caro-Seuss-el™ is more than just a carousel; it’s a twirling, straight-out-of-a-Seuss book joyride. Illustrated classics come to life when you hop on elephant birds from Horton Hatches the Egg or cowfish from McElligot’s Pool. Take the reins of whichever magical creature you choose to ride to truly bring them to life. This is kid-friendly fun even adults will like.

Best Place to Eat: Thunder Falls Terrace or Three Broomsticks

Both of these eateries are solid options you can’t go wrong with when dining at Islands of Adventure. Thunder Falls Terrace’s menu features crowd-pleasers like chicken, ribs, and wraps. It’s a quick-service restaurant so you can catch a snappy meal and get right back to all the fun. If you save room for dessert, you won’t be disappointed by the Signature Key Lime Cheesecake. 

Related Post: Universal's Islands of Adventure Dining Guide

Of course, Harry Potter™ fans won’t want to pass up Three Broomsticks. The cozy, rustic atmosphere meets traditional British menu options, like shepherd’s pie or fish and chips, to create the ultimate Hogsmeade™ experience. It doesn’t take a magic wand to figure out where to go for dinner with options like these.

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Which is Your Favorite?

There you have it! Now that you know the inside scoop on the best of each Universal Orlando Resort theme park, it’s time for you to make your decision.

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As you can see, they both have different appeals and attractions you won’t want to miss. Which park or ride is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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